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The Secret to Getting Things Done: Stop Comparing & Stop Competing

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Yes, you heard me correctly—if you are trying to get something done, the first step starts with doing away with your need to compare and compete.

Now pause really quickly—before you dismiss my statement as some sort of un-American, anti-capitalism, fluffy-feel-good-mumbo-jumbo. What exactly am I talking about, then? All I ask is that you give me one chance to explain before you write off this article altogether as some sort of soft-skills babble. Hear me out first—then you can start getting things done.

First, Let’s Talk FOMO

FOMO—you might be unfamiliar with the acronym, but I can almost guarantee that because you are a human being with human emotions and thoughts, you are not unfamiliar with the feeling.

FOMO is an acronym coined by Patrick McGinnis (check out his interview here in Forbes magazine) that describes a feeling we have all been party to: fear of missing out.

In 2002, Patrick enrolled in Harvard Business School seeking his MBA. On weekends, he and his friends would head out to his weekend ski house, (yes, you heard me right, I said weekend ski house), and that is precisely where the term FOMO was born.

He goes on to explain that the concept of missing out on what others were doing was not necessarily new, but in the era of the Internet site Friendster combined with the post-9/11 feeling that we needed to live our lives to the fullest, the fear of missing out was suddenly palpable and very real.

As a result, he wrote a satirical article about this idea in Harvard Business School’s newspaper—it was the first documented use of FOMO in print.

When I first read about this story of how FOMO was coined, I could not help but think something along the lines of, “Wait a second—here is a guy who is talented and fortunate enough to be going to Harvard (and not just Harvard but Harvard Business School) for his MBA and is going to his ski house on the weekends. What could he possibly be afraid of missing out on?”

You probably thought it, too, right? Talk about losing perspective.

But that is exactly how comparison and competition get you.

Comparison: How It Robs Perspective

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — President Theodore Roosevelt

“Comparison is the death of joy.” — Mark Twain

These are not just coincidences. Two famously successful Americans both speak on the loss of joy in our lives when comparison is involved.

You see, I would contend that McGinnis and his friends—even though many of us may say they had it all going for them—were still comparing what they had to what they thought they were missing out on.

Of course, I would contend, the day they received their acceptance letters from Harvard, or the day McGinnis became the owner of a ski house were probably both exciting and joyful days. Each of us has probably had our fair share of exciting and joyful days, too. But then, we look around and see what others may have—suddenly, we are no longer happy with our path or success.

Looking at others and comparing our goals, our successes, and our trajectory distracts us from our desired path. It usually pulls us toward a path that we did not even want or design for ourselves.

That is when the joy is taken.

Competition: How it Distracts From Happiness

There is a famously quoted Proverb that states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

If you are competing with something or someone to test your abilities and push yourself to a level that you did not know you could achieve before, that is a healthy, successful form of competition.

Of course, I would contend that often, competition becomes more of an effort to defeat the other person or organization—effectively making you the winner and the other party the loser. I call this notion compete to defeat.

When you compete to defeat, you steal the positive effects of what competition should be all about.

In the worst cases, you could end up violating your own principles and ditching your own goals in an effort to win whatever competition you became a part of.

So many people and organizations fall victim to this distraction—Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Enron, UBS, WorldCom, etc. The list is truly endless.

In our efforts to compete at the highest level, we get distracted by others’ successes and do what we think we need to do to win.

Competition and winning have become so intertwined that I am willing to bet most Americans see winning as the ultimate outcome of value and contribution.

Adding Value

Since 1967, the NFL has declared a single team the winner of the Super Bowl, awarding them the ultimate prize—the Championship Trophy. But going further, each Super Bowl game awards one player as the Super Bowl MVP. Over this time, 54 Super Bowl MVP awards have been given out. Only once has the recipient of the MVP trophy been on the losing team—Chuck Howley on the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.

In the NBA, only Jerry West of the LA Lakers (1969) has been the losing-team recipient of the MVP award in the Series. And MLB tells a similar story, too: only Bobby Richardson of the second-place NY Yankees in 1960 has been awarded the MVP of the World Series.

In other words, only three players in all of major league sports have done the unthinkable—be considered so valuable to the event that—despite their loss—they made the most impact.

The most shocking thing? No one has done it in the last 50 years.

Take a moment to think about this. Do you think it is because no athlete has contributed the same value that those other amazing athletes did? Or is it more likely that the American perception of value has changed so much that value only exists when it is associated with winning? So how can we stay focused and not get distracted with comparing or unhealthy competition?

How to Start Achieving Your Goals

  1. Write down YOUR joys, YOUR goals, and YOUR skills. We recommend checking out some of our past blogs for more help in this department.

  2. Set targets and mini goals to keep yourself on track along the way. Run your own race. Put your head down and compete with yourself and your targets.

  3. Celebrate your wins! Reward yourself for performing the behaviors that lead to your ultimate outcome.

  4. Remove anything that will distract you from those set goals—social media, TV, poor diets, bad habits, friends that do not support your positive changes...

  5. Your personal best is a win! Celebrate others’ personal bests, too! Learn what helped them achieve their best and evaluate if it will work for you.

The only thing you ever need to compete with—and ultimately defeat— is your past performance.

Every other endeavor should just be a chance to test yourself and your abilities against another person so that you can sharpen one another. This type of attitude should show you that you have no need for the FOMO acronym.

Why? Because you cannot miss out on something you never set your mind to in the first place!

Know what you are good at. Go after what is YOUR heart’s desire. And be happy for other people as they chase what is joyful for them — jealousy and envy may drive performance in the short run, but they rob and steal joy in the long run!

This blog was inspired by a talk given by Louie Giglio.

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